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Greenpeace protests Apple's coal-powered data centres

Barry de la Rosa
26 Apr 2012
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Puns galore as dirty cloud hangs over not-so-green Apple

Greenpeace protesters have picketed Apple properties around the world to raise awareness of Apple's use of coal power to run its data centres. In New York City, San Francisco and Toronto, activists released black balloons in the shape of blocks of coal. At Apple's Regent Street flagship store in London, protesters put up posters with mock advertisements highlighting Apple's dirty energy policies. Similar protests were carried out in Sydney, Budapest, and Hong Kong.

Greenpeace released this video to support its campaign

At Apple's European HQ in Cork last week, activists scaled the building's glass-fronted façade to put up posters that spelled out, "Clean Our Cloud". Apple's HQ is powered entirely by clean energy, a fact that Greenpeace was quick to acknowledge: "The Irony is that Apple has shown that it can be environmentally responsible – their European HQ is exclusively powered by renewable energy," said Jim Footner, Senior Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace, "so if they can run their HQ with clean power then they can do it for customers’ iclouds."

The global action follows the publication of a report called Clean Our Cloud that argues that the move towards cloud-based computing has led to the creation of massive data centres which are mostly powered by dirty energy such as coal. While the most recent protests have targeted Apple, other large IT companies such as Amazon and Microsoft have also been criticised. Greenpeace has also praised other companies, such as Yahoo!, Google and Facebook for taking the lead in renewable energy.

Apple's response to the protests was to dispute the numbers. “Our data center in North Carolina will draw about 20 megawatts at full capacity, and we are on track to supply more than 60% of that power on-site from renewable sources including a solar farm and fuel cell installation which will each be the largest of their kind in the country,” Apple said in a statement. “We believe this industry-leading project will make Maiden the greenest data center ever built, and it will be joined next year by our new facility in Oregon running on 100% renewable energy.”

Greenpeace's report calls on Microsoft, Amazon, Apple and other companies with cloud services to be more transparent about their energy usage and carbon footprint, to build data centres in areas where clean energy is available, to invest in renewable energy, and to lobby governments and utility companies increase the percentage of renewable energy used in the grid.

Greenpeace's Footner continued, "Apple is a worldwide brand that is renowned for its innovative products that have set the agenda for computers and telecommunications in recent decades, with an immensely loyal customer base. Many of their customers will be surprised and shocked that Apple are using coal to power the icloud. If they fail to change course, the clean image that Apple have worked so hard to develop over many years will be destroyed.”

Greenpeace has set up a dedicated website at www.cleanourcloud.com to highlight the issue.

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